This is a place many say no longer exists. Headlines read, “Paradise Lost: Inside the Burned-out California Town Destroyed by Deadly Fire,” and “‘There’s Nothing Left of This Town,’ Paradise, California, May Never Come Back From the Ashes.” It was a small town; few knew it. It is not an overstatement to say the wildfire put it on the map the same day it wiped it off.
Sandy showed us how. She placed the shovel’s tip a few inches from a tuft’s base. Angled the handle back a bit, just enough to loosen the grass before she lowered, hand-pulling. This way, she explained, down to the source. Awards went to the biggest pile, longest root (you cannot burn grass off the dunes; the network just shoots back again), cleanest area too. Tawny tips waved in small breeze from the lagoon, off the lip of sea. But the grass is pretty, C said, and somebody murmured, agreeing. He traced the rake in arcs, looking down, but couldn’t swirl it far. European beachgrass (Ammophila arenaria) grows in clumps from rhizomes that spread four meters each year, so it’s no surprise beachgrass defines large stretches of Pacific coast. Pretty till you get a spine in your glove, E admitted, wincing. Until you get down close.
“Help! Won’t anyone come out and help me?” I looked out the window and saw a tall man with feathered blonde hair and large sunglasses standing on the sidewalk across the street. He reached out, trying to find something, anything, to guide him.
The proper term is “government facility,” but it feels like an old university most of the time. Asbestos in the ceilings, paint fresh from 1979. Fluorescent lighting, emergency signage, old handset telephones on the wall in every floor. My role here, in a place where the best of the best tackle noble, courageous goals—the taking of soil samples from Mars and the landing of spacecrafts on comets—is comparatively small. The comforting routine of support, set-up, clean-up; prepare, take care.
In a photograph Robert Adams took northeast of Riverside, California, in 1982, serpentine paths lead toward the horizon line; it’s not easy to discern whether these are creeks, dirt trails, or roads. Human presence takes the form of wooden poles carrying electric wires, which stride diagonally from the bottom left of the composition toward the distance at right. Scrubby brush covers the low hill that spreads out beneath Adams’s camera, a few trees poke up disconsolately here and there, and a larger hill dominates the right-hand edge of the picture. In the distance is the radiance of an invisible sun, an onrushing whiteness that presses toward the camera and blots out the landscape’s details.
Usually 4 p.m. glares on my windshield as I head to the Hollywood Hills Forest Lawn Memorial Park. I am 75 miles per hour on the 134, maybe more. Others fly by me, impatient. The temptation to catch up to them is strong, as always. But I stay below the eighties, as though the seventies are the right glide, on Lenny Kravitz tunes. At the exit, flower vendors on foot wave roses and chrysanthemums. Their nearest competition is the flower shop at the gate, less than a mile away. You’d think they’d sell for bargain. But I buy a bunch or two anyway. It beats walking to the shop, and ringing for someone to come out when you’re ready to pay.
Travis Meinolf, Fabric panels made for with Kai Althoff, Whitney Biennial, 2012
If you need a blanket, Travis Meinolf, the self-appointed Action Weaver, will give you one. For free. And it won’t be a common fleece or wool number. It will look like folk art. It could be made by the artist or by many hands, and perhaps strung together from woven cloths of varying stripes, colors, and sizes. These free hand-woven blankets are a component of the artist’s ongoing project Blanket Offer, part of the artist’s grand mission to bring weaving to the masses.
Three days of dirty weather and everyone saw it on their way home from work. It was dumped onto the Silver Strand State Beach parking lot— the keel naked and scabbed with barnacles, the mast canted. Someone said the park maintenance people must have hauled it up out of the surf. It looked like a forklift had punched two holes in the hull.